UN Secretary-General gets Spartan tour of Pacific isles

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, and other dignitaries, toured the South-West Pacific with the assistance of the Royal Australian Air Force in mid May 2019.

CAPTION: United Nations Secretary General António Guterres views islands of Tuvalu from the ramp of a No. 35 Squadron C-27J Spartan. Story and photo by Eamon Hamilton.

António Guterres visited Fiji, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu from May 14 to 18.

His visited included attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum and bilateral talks with regional leaders.

Flown between the islands by No. 35 Squadron’s ‘Wallaby Airlines’ C-27J Spartan, he saw firsthand the impacts of climate change on the region.

The squadron’s support also allowed the Secretary-General to speak directly with senior government leaders from across the south-west Pacific.

It was a high-profile ‘no fail’ task for 35 Squadron and Flight Lieutenant Luke Georgeson said everything went as planned for the VIP party of 21 passengers.

“We moved the Secretary-General through Fiji, including Nadi and Suva, and then Tuvalu and finally Vanuatu,” Flight Lieutenant Georgeson said.

“Passengers included the UN Secretary General, the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister, Fiji and New Zealand High Commissioners for the region, along with media and other staff.”

The Spartan proved well suited for supporting the task, especially as it toured through Tuvalu.

“The airport at Tuvalu had a low pavement strength and a small apron, and we needed to deliver a relatively large group,” Flight Lieutenant Georgeson said.

“This meant the C-27J was the only RAAF aircraft able to adequately service this task.”

Whilst in Tuvalu, the crew was able to open the aircraft’s ramp in-flight, with the UN Secretary General safely attached by a harness, he received a breathtaking view of the Pacific islands.

“His feedback was that it was the “best experience of my life”,” Flight Lieutenant Georgeson said.

Mr Guterres said the picturesque view of the south-west Pacific contrasted with the sobering reality faced by many due to rising waters, natural disaster, and even climate-related disease.

Speaking after his visit to Tuvalu, Mr Guterres described it as “an entire country fighting to preserve its very existence”, and called climate change an “an existential threat”.

“Climate change cannot be stopped by the small island countries alone, it has to be stopped by the rest of the world,” Mr Guterres said.

“(This requires) transformational policies in energy, mobility, industry and agriculture.

“To save the Pacific is to save the whole planet.”

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Brian Hartigan

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